Beyond the Broward February Edition
A layer of altocumulus clouds covers the early morning sky. As the sun began to rise, the scattering rays of spectral light reflect off the base of the clouds in hues of red, orange, indigo, and violet before turning a deep blue grey. It is a textbook “mackerel” sky reflecting in the small channel heading into the Broward. I wait all day Friday for the Editor to return home from work and have us all packed in no time. We get in my new Ford Transit truck and head off beyond the Broward for a weekend encounter with Extreme Raptors, a workshop I had signed up for at the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Titusville, arriving late that evening.
They say never invite a weatherman to your picnic. At 0430 I was wide awake and looking at the predawn sky. No rain was in the local forecast but sure enough it was raining with overcast skies. Not the picture perfect morning I had hoped for. By the time I find the campus and register, the rain had ceased and the sun was trying to peek out between the clouds. A dozen anxious photographers gather round the two instructors as they unload several crates of raptors. The first one is an Eastern Screech Owl who did not seem quite as enthused about the morning event as we are and fussed, flapped, and loudly carried on before assuming a nice owl like pose in its makeshift “home” (a piece of tree trunk erected for the event). I marvel at the camouflage colors and texture of its feathers, perfectly matching the rough bark of its photo studio imitation home. If those big yellow green eyes were not so wide you could easily miss seeing this bird from only a few feet away.
A Great Horned Owl, a Barn Owl, a male American Kestrel (smallest of the falcons), a Merlin, and a rare, but beautiful, Alpomado Falcon were next. Each took pose in turn on various makeshift branch perches as the sound of doohickeys click and click away. I am spellbound and in awe at the beauty of these birds as I move from perch to perch capturing the moment as best I can in the available light. Thankfully I brought a fill flash to use also. Then came the larger birds of prey. A Crested Caracara emerges from its cage. Also called a Mexican Eagle, it is the national bird of Mexico. I have only seen one of these long legged falconidae once before at a distance. Its large eagle like beak and red face and dark crest make it a striking bird to behold. A carrion eater, this bird has reportedly been observed dropping meat on busy highways to attract its competition, the bald eagle, to a “last supper” event. Finally the sun begins to shine as the sky begins to clear. The last bird to emerge was a beautiful Harris Hawk. This rufous colored raptor was untethered and we got some flight action photo opportunities. Suddenly a wild Crested Caracara swoops low overhead. The hawk becomes very alert and watches as the Caracara circles overhead several times giving me my first close up view of one of these beautiful birds of prey in the wild.
When I made my 2014 wish list of birds I omitted the Caracara because they are not seen locally and did not think I would get such an opportunity. I was so happy to be wrong. Thank you Lord! I took the Editor for a quick tour of the Viera Wetlands before we began our journey home from beyond the Broward. We captured a moment with a huge Mute Swan I want to share with you as well. These European swans are rarely sited in Florida. It probably “escaped” from some park way up north. Must have been talking to that Snowy Owl about the nice weather in Florida. Hope you are blessed with this first Beyond the Broward edition. Harry